Chat heard the gentle trill of the chime above the door from across the street and peered over the ledge of the roof to watch as she pulled the door shut. With her back to him, he saw the way her spine tensed. She glanced over and for a split second their eyes met before he ducked down and ran his fingers across the bridge of his nose. The leather of his gloves chafed against the leather of his mask.
Careful not to disturb the still night, he crept over the rooftops, keeping her in his peripheral vision. Across the street he could see her doing the same, one hand on the strap of her bag. He couldn't help but admire the silhouette she cast. He knew that despite her slim frame she could handle herself. He'd felt the gentle muscles of her arms, the quiet strength of her back.
When, at the next corner, a group of men stepped out of the shadows, she stiffened and he crept closer. Their voices drifted across the street, their words dulled into drunken slurs. The moment they sighted her, their voices grew taunting and amused. They turned and made their way down the same street as her.
Marinette's eyes darted up to meet his and he crossed the street, dropping down beside her as she turned the next corner. Beside him, he could hear the tense pulse of her heart and see the nervous way her fingers fidgeted with the strap of her purse.
The sounds of the men drifted around the corner as they approached, and he turned, sending them the same predatory grin they were aiming at her. The men stopped walking. As he turned back around, Chat heard a beer bottle smash against the pavement.
The further they walked from the almost-confrontation, the further Marinette's body language shifted. Instead of relaxing, it morphed into a different type of anxious. A streetlight lit up her face and revealed her blush. She seemed to be putting all of her focus into not looking in his direction. He should have been doing the same, but his eyes wandered back to the smooth outline of her face in the dark.
She had to know he was staring but she didn't move away, didn't tell him to leave. When they reached the edge of her street she turned to face him, the dark made her blue hair shine violet.
"It can't happen again." The fingers of her right hand had drifted up to press against her bottom lip. She blinked and pulled them away. "It's not right. We shouldn't even be talking to one another much less… It can't happen again."
"Okay." He forced his eyes to remain on hers. "You're working tomorrow, can I…?"
"It doesn't mean anything," she said. Then, "Yes."
Marinette settled the mass of purple silk at the base of the table, carefully spreading out a few meters over the design room tabletop. Even with her staff discount she had barely been able to afford enough fabric to cover her latest design. She was hesitant to cut into it, pinning and re-pinning the pattern she'd made, making sure to use as much of the material as she could.
She knew she only had one shot to get the outfit perfect and there was a voice inside her mind over-analysing every step it would take to get there.
For the dozenth time, Marinette readjusted the fabric, making sure the centre-fold was exactly where it should be. Gently she pinned it in place and began to assemble her pattern pieces.
If not for the increased senses granted by her miraculous, Marinette wouldn't have noticed Chloé's smug laugh from across the room. She was on guard as the blonde walked over, a tub in her hands. She watched, aware but too late to prevent it as Chloé stumbled, her hands shooting up and releasing the container of fabric dye with a dramatic gasp.
The molten darkness rushed to cover the delicate purple fabric. Marinette desperately lifted her material, black already seeping into the lines of her palms and staining her skin.
Across the room, her classmates stood, their expressions torn between the horror of the act and the amusement of seeing it happen to someone else's project.
"Oh my God," Chloé exclaimed, "I am so sorry, Marinette. How clumsy of me."
Marinette held the fabric to her chest, uncaring of the inky stain spreading to her own clothing. "You did that on purpose."
"Huh." Chloé tilted her head with a smug smile. "I actually think it looks better like that. Maybe I'm not sorry."
In her purse she could feel Tikki's anxious fluttering, a constant comfort. She took a breath, letting the oxygen linger in her lungs for a moment before releasing it.
"You know what, Chloé?" Marinette smoothed the material out, ink bleeding between her fingers. "You might be right, it does look better like this. Thank you for your help."
Chloé scoffed, her face crumbling into a frown before picking back up into a glare. With a flick of her ponytail she turned and stalked back to her own table.
Marinette sighed, sitting down and beginning to think of ideas to fix her ruined project. She wanted to rant and scream and complain to someone about the unfairness of it all, wanted to call her best friend and forget Chloé existed for a few hours.
But the person in her mind who understood wasn't Alya.
"You're allowed to be attracted to him as well, Marinette." Tikki hovered by the window, just out of sight to the rest of the world as she watched her chosen overthink.
"I'm not," Marinette insisted, glaring at the faded pink of her bedroom wall.
"Not attracted to him, or not allowed to be?" Tikki asked.
"You were the one who told me to stay away."
"I did say that. But… It's always difficult to measure how much hatred within a dark Chat Noir is a result of Plagg's influence, and how much was there to begin with." Tikki's hands fluttered around as she struggled to explain." I was worried that he was one of the angry ones, the ones you can only hurt yourself trying to save, but I don't believe he is."
Marinette let out a groan, pitched high enough for Tikki to flinch at the sound, and pulled at her hair. "It doesn't even matter because nothing's happening, okay?"
Tikki didn't need to draw on her magic to taste the lie in the air. A long moment passed in silence before Marinette's face flushed red.
Burying her face in the couch she mumbled out, "He is my type, though. Hypothetically."
Marinette breathed out a sigh, but Tikki could see her smiling against the fabric of the lounge. Tikki landed on Marinette's hair, as gentle as a butterfly, and giggled.
Marinette groaned into the couch but sat up and held out her hands for Tikki to sit and face her. Despite her grinding teeth, Marinette's blue eyes were bright. Tikki had spent a lifetime learning how to read her chosens, understanding them inside and out. She was the Goddess of Creation and Luck, it was impossible to hide happiness from her keen eyes.
A blush spread across Marinette's cheeks, making her freckles stand out. "Hypothetically, he's attractive. And funny, in his own misguided way. And a great kisser. And blonde and– and bad. This is ridiculous, he's bad, like Supervillain level bad. I'm not allowed to want this, you aren't allowed to encourage this."
"Aren't allowed to encourage what?"
Tikki ducked into the pile of fabric that was steadily becoming her second home. Against the dark sky he wasn't even a silhouette, just a pair of startling green eyes. Breath entered Marinette's body in an audible gasp and Tikki watched as her chosen's eyes caught on Chat Noir's features, his bright eyes and sharp cheekbones and ruthless grin, before drifting across his leather covered chest.
She watched Marinette take in the man before her and knew that this wasn't one of the times that she was going to be able to stop it.
Warm hands and soft lips and silken hair and hungry eyes.
Marinette shook off the memories. "What are you doing here? I told you–"
"Not to come here," Chat finished. "And yet here I am, again."
"Why are you here?"
Chat scrolled across her room, idly picking up and putting down magazines and knickknacks. He paused, seeming to study her pink lounge for a moment, before draping his long limbs across the fabric. Marinette waited, preparing for whatever he was planning, but he merely picked up an empty pin cushion and threw it up in the air above him, catching it as it fell back down.
After he'd repeated the action a few times, Marinette sat down at her desk, sending a look in Tikki's direction before beginning to re-sketch the project Chloé had destroyed. She focused on the scratch of lead against paper, content to ignore the man on the other side of her room.
"So," Chat's voice broke the quiet, making her pencil skid across the paper, "why fashion?'
She looked up, but his attention remained on the pin cushion as he threw it up again. "Excuse me?"
"Fashion, designing, why'd you decide to enter into the most competitive market in the world?" One of Chat's ears twitched to face her, the only sign he was paying attention, waiting for her answer.
"Why'd you decide to become a mass murderer? Less competition?" She retorted.
His ear flicked in annoyance. He tossed the cushion high enough that it bounced off the ceiling and landed back in his hands more forcefully.
Marinette removed the line she had made, gently brushing the eraser shavings to the side to throw away later. "When I was a child I used to decorate the cupcakes downstairs. But it wasn't enough, so one day I went into my mother's closet and cut up her favourite dress. It was a mess. I didn't know how to use a needle, so I used tape, but it didn't matter. She loved it anyway. She still has it, my first design."
"How old were you?" Chat's voice was bored, but his ear remained perked in her direction.
Marinette smiled. "Seven. She bought me a sewing machine the next day and my father taught me how to use it. She told me that one day I was going to be great."
Chat was quiet for a long time, his face hidden by the back of the lounge. Marinette was half sure he had fallen asleep when he spoke again.
"Your mother was right."
Marinette waited, expecting him to continue and, when he didn't, turned back to her design with a smile at the corner of her mouth.
Marinette tapped the page, gently tracing the photo with her fingertip. She sat in the back corner of the classroom, facing the door, surrounded by her classmates. The other women in her design class pressed closer to her, attempting in vain to touch the magazine in her hands. Their laughter and murmured comments drifted out the open doorway, clearly audible from outside.
She had positioned herself in the perfect seat to watch as Chloé walked through the door and zeroed in on the group of gossipers. The Blonde's body stiffened as she met Marinette's eyes and the realisation of who was receiving such attention dawned on her.
"What are you losers looking at?" Chloé's shrill voice cut through the crowd of girls surrounding Marinette. The women moved without needing to be touched or told; in the classroom, much like in the larger world, Chloé reigned.
"Just one of your designs, Chloé," Marinette explained, challenging Chloé's gaze as she remained seated.
After a moment, Chloé blinked, glancing between Marinette and their classmates. "Excuse me?"
"Oh," Marinette gasped, exaggeratedly pressing her palm against her heart "You don't know?"
Chloé's eyes were wide, eager pools of curiosity as they caught on the paper in Marinette's hands. "One of my designs? Show me."
Marinette held onto the magazine with both hands, letting Chloé tug at it for a moment before releasing her grip. The blonde stumbled back, clutching the magazine to her chest in victory.
"I told you my designs were better than yours, Marinette." Chloé sneered, flicking through the glossy paper.
When Chloé's face paled and her hands stilled, Marinette grinned. "What's wrong, Chloé? Don't you want to show everyone your amazing, magazine worthy design?"
Chloé's fingers dug into the paper, her acrylic nails leaving indents in the page. Her eyes were wide as they darted from person to person, looking for an exit, for an excuse. The women in their class, so quick to pick the winning side, laughed at her frantic movements.
Chloé's blue eyes were streaked with fear. "I… how did you–"
Marinette stepped forward and grabbed onto the magazine.
"Everything in your life comes with a price tag, Chloé. Bad things happen when you lose the receipt." Marinette's fingers tightened on the magazine, pulling Chloé off balance with the force of her hold. "Don't worry, though, I'll be here, digging through the trash to find them."
Marinette abruptly let go and stepped back. Chloé stumbled, clutching the magazine like a lifeline as she fell. Instead of hitting the floor, she knocked into their design professor, Madame Delia. The older woman was quick to stabilise Chloé, and quicker to spot the magazine in her hands, open to the exact page of the stolen design.
Chloé eyes glared daggers in Marinette's direction as Madame Delia wrote up the plagiarism paperwork.
She saw Chat hear it first, his body stiffening and ears flicking, but she wasn't far behind. The bell of the bakery, an ordinary sound if not for the late hour, was followed by the quick pace of footsteps against the stairs.
The gait was familiar to Marinette, the unbalanced tilt of an alcohol fuelled body and the strong click of heeled shoes.
"You need to go," Marinette insisted, cutting Chat's sentence off. "Now."
Chat moved with certainty, gathering the sketchbooks he had been browsing, piling them onto the table where he'd found them and moving to the window. There, he paused, his gaze lingering on Marinette as hers lingered back. He was the first to break, sending her a grin he stepped back and disappeared into the dark.
Marinette didn't have time to reflect on the meaning of the moment. The door leading to her bedroom loft was groaning with the effort placed upon it.
"Mari! Come on, unlock the door, I don't wanna wake up your parents," Alya called out, barely quiet enough to count as anything other than shouting.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," she reassured, rushing over to the door to unlock it.
When Alya pulled herself into the room, she stumbled, the first sign that it was one of her bad nights. Marinette steadied her, ignoring the rich scent of liquor wafting from Alya's breath and leading her to the lounge.
Before she could sit her down, Alya twisted out of her grip and staggered across the room, pacing unsteadily. The sound of her heels against the floorboards and the harsh cut of her breathing loud against the quiet room.
"Alya?" Marinette asked.
"I didn't even like alcohol before all this, you know that, right? You believe me, don't you?" Alya prompted turning to Marinette, eyes wild, breath stale.
"I don't understand. What happened?"
"I wasn't like this before, I promise." Alya reached out and dug her fingers into Marinette's shoulders, her hands shaking. "You know I wasn't like this, right Marinette?"
Marinette gently peeled her friend's fingers away, holding them tightly. "I know you weren't, Alya. I believe you. I trust you. Tell me what's wrong."
Nervous laughter bubbled up from Alya's throat. "You haven't seen it. You don't know. You must be the only person in Paris not following her."
Marinette's breath caught in her lungs and she let go of Alya's hands, moving to her computer and pulling up Chloé Bourgeois' social media pages. And there, right at the top, surrounded by hazy bar lights and ravenous men and empty bottles of cheap beer was Alya. Her eyes fuzzy with intoxication, her belly just barely swollen from pregnancy.
Behind her, Alya choked out a laugh, wet enough that Marinette could already hear the sob that would follow. "It's not true, Mari, I promise. I would never–"
"I know. I believe you." Marinette was quick to reassure. "I know how much you wanted that baby, how much you loved them."
But as Marinette's eyes scanned the image looking for inconsistencies, her came to an impasse. If it were photoshop, it was very very good. Instantly her mind flooded with regret. She knew Alya, she knew Chloé – even if it was difficult to spot, she shouldn't have any doubts about its unauthenticity. Below the photo, the caption caught her attention and erased her suspicions.
'I suppose it was for the best. We don't need any more drunken reporters wandering around and, as they say, like mother like child.'
"What if she's right? I can't even look after myself, Mari, how badly would I have screwed up a kid, a baby?"
"Shut up," Marinette snapped. "No, don't. Let me speak. You would have, you will be the best mother. Your little sisters adore you and we both know how much time you put into helping raise them. Are they screwed up?"
Alya frowned and, under Marinette's prompting, admitted, "No."
"No." Marinette confirmed. "Because you are the most committed, brave, determined woman I have ever known. You are fearless and daring and confident, in your reporting and in the rest of your life. It scares the shit out of me sometimes, but when you decide to pursue something you don't stop until you have it in your grasp. Motherhood isn't going to be any different, I promise."
"But," Alya whispered, "what if it is? I can't even… Nino wanted kids, his own kids not…"
"Nino will love your children, biological or not."
Alya groaned, her eyes looking through Marinette, searching the room. "I need a drink," she admitted.
Marinette hesitated, her mind warring between her instinct to protect and her fears of hurting Alya's fragile stability. "There's this group, they meet twice a week. I've been doing some research and I think…"
"You don't think I've tried to stop? Tried to get over this without the smell of alcohol trailing after me everywhere I go like a fucking shadow? It's just," Alya ran the pad of her palm over her eyes and exhaled the air from her lungs like a drowning person giving up, "when I stop, everything comes rushing back. And it's just, so much. I worry that one day it's going to be too much to handle and I honestly don't know what I'd do. So, I drink, and it stays far enough away that I don't need to worry."
Marinette let the silence thicken the air, her breath caught in her lungs. Because she understood, she knew what it was to have so much going wrong and to worry and worry and worry until it was easier just to stop.
"If this is what you need to do to get through this, then I don't like it, but I understand." Marinette gathered her best friend into her arms and held on until Alya slumped against her, tears staining Marinette's shirt. "I'm here. I'm never going anywhere, okay?"
Alya's voice was no more than a sniffle against the skin of Marinette's neck. "Promise?"
"Adrikins!" Chloé's arms wrapped around his neck with more force than necessary. "It's so good to see you! We never get to catch up anymore, it's almost as if you're avoiding me or something. How silly is that?'
"Guinevere is upstairs, you remember Guinevere, my beautician, right?" Chloé snatched one of his hands between her own, eyes narrowing as she studied it. "I'm in the middle of a manicure, you should totally join. Your nails could use a good buffing."
Adrien noticed that the nails of one of her hands were a slightly lighter shade of pink than the others, not double coated yet. He pulled his hand away from hers.
"Chloé," he repeated. "You need to delete the post."
Chloé avoided his eyes, suddenly focused on her own nails. "What post would that be?"
"I'm not messing around, Chloé. The one about Alya, and the miscarriage. That was cruel, even for you."
She scoffed. "Oh please, that post? That was a joke, obviously. It's not my fault the girl is so damn sensitive."
"Nino is my best friend, did you even consider how this would affect him?" He asked.
Chloé's face fell as she reached out and clutched at his arm. "But Adrikins, I'm your best–"
"Chloé," Adrien growled out, forcibly removing her grip, "take down the post."
Chloé startled at his harsh tone and blinked, staring at him with a look he had seen often but never directed at him. Her eyes were calculated. "And if I don't?"
Adrien let his mouth curve into a grin, not the one he was so well known for, but the one he reserved for the mask and the claws and the leather. "Oh, Chloé," he purred, letting fury saturate his words, "we both know modelling isn't the walk in the park that the world thinks it is. Do you really think that I managed to thrive in a world like that for so long without learning how to play dirty?"
Even without the mask, Adrien could smell things, hear things, see things that other couldn't. From across the carpark he could smell the alcohol that stained Alya's breath. She stumbled as she walked, hanging onto Nino one moment and pushing his hands away the next. He was used to seeing the worst in people rise to the top, but that didn't mean he enjoyed it. Especially when he could see the way Nino's hands hovered inches away from Alya's skin, willing to respect her boundaries but never stepping far enough away to let her fall.
Alya stumbled, pulling away from Nino and falling to her knees at the edge of the garden. Adrien's noise scrunched at the acidic scent of bile and regurgitated liquor. He knew enough to know that Alya's usual morning drink consisted of roasted coffee beans rather than the mess she was currently vomiting into the ferns.
Despite his advanced senses, it was Nino who noticed first when Alya's heaves transitioned into sobs. In a heartbeat, the distraught woman was in his friend's arms. Nino gathered her to himself with a reverence that Adrien was only just starting to understand.
Once Alya had been carefully settled into the passenger seat of Nino's car and had drifted into a fitful sleep, Nino walked over and leaned heavily against the wall beside Adrien. Nino let out a sigh that seemed to draw out every last breath of air in his body.
"I'm sorry," Adrien murmured. "I told her to take it down. She shouldn't have… I'm sorry, I wish there was something more I could do to help."
Adrien averted his eyes as Nino wiped at his eyes, dragging the edge of his shirt up to scrub away the moisture on his cheeks.
"Dude," Nino said, his voice drained of emotion, "this is so fucked up. I know it doesn't seem like it from the outside, but she was finally getting herself together. After yesterday… I don't know, man. I'm worried about her. She blames herself. She thinks she took away my future and I'm worried that if she keeps going down this path she won't be able to come back."
Adrien turned to his best friend, the only person who had ever looked at him and seen Adrien rather than Adrien Agreste, Supermodel. "Tell me what you need."
Nino's eyes were haunted, his gaze trapped on the car a few meters away where Alya lay sleeping off the intoxication of the night before. When he finally faced him, Nino's entire body went slack.
"Normalcy," Nino decided. "I need you to order a pizza and beat me in every video game you own. I need to remember who I was before my whole world went to shit."
"I can do that."
Chat seemed more exhausted than usual when he crept down beside her for their midnight trip from Marinette's work to her house. She watched him from her peripheral vision, confused by his sudden lack of energy.
"Your reporter friend, Alya, is she okay?"
Marinette's gaze caught on the man beside her, waiting for his lips to curve up and reveal his insincerity. Instead, as he watched her with carefully genuine eyes, she realised that he was honestly asking about Alya, rather than using it against her. She was surprised by the way her heart jumped at the thought of him caring about her enough to ask about her best friend's emotional state, surprised by how much she wanted this to be genuine concern and not another cruel trick.
"No," she said cautiously. "But Chloé took down the post, so that's a start. I'm not sure why, it isn't like her to change her mind or retreat when she's winning. I'm not complaining, but I would have liked the opportunity to punch her in her stupid, smug face. What do you think, could I still get away with it?"
Chat laughed, the sound was startling in its joylessness. "Knowing Chloé, you won't have to wait very long for another opportunity to arise."
"That's probably true," Marinette's mouth drew into a frown. "What do you mean 'knowing Chloé'?"
Chat's eyes darted towards her, meeting her own for a split second before quickly retreating. It only took that brief second for Marinette to see the fear in his gaze. He rolled his shoulders, stretching his arms in the air above him in a lazy movement.
"Through what you've told me, I mean. Plus, Chloé Bourgeois isn't exactly a nobody. Even I've noticed that she can be a bit of a…"
Chat sneered, his voice rough. "Yeah, a bitch."
Chat watched as Marinette's eyes flickered back towards the dark streets behind them. The moon was a mere sliver in the sky, and the closest streetlight sputtered a few hundred metres away. The sharp sound of glass colliding against concrete resounded from the dark streets, followed by drunken laughter. He could hear the alcohol sodden men's heavy breathing from six blocks away. With a shiver, Marinette wrapped her arms around herself and stepped closer to her doorstep.
"Don't worry, they know not to mess with what's mine," Chat reassured, where he stood between her and the dangers of the streets, as he had during the walk from the fabric store to her home.
Marinette's body stilled, her attention shifting solely onto him. Her eyes were sharp; he could see the green glow of his own reflecting back at him in her pupils.
"What," she said tersely, "did you just say?"
Chat stepped back, searching his mind for his fault but coming up blank.
"Would you rather they followed you home?" His cruel tone disguised the confusion lingering beneath. "I doubt you'd last long against them, as determined as you might be."
Marinette's scowl darkened, and she clutched the strap of her purse with both hands as if it were the only thing preventing her from lashing out at him. Chat stepped forward, reaching to place a hand on her shoulder. She stepped backwards, out of reach.
"Don't worry, I wasn't… that wasn't a threat. I'm not leaving you to deal with them alone. I'm not leaving you, okay?"
"Actually, you are." At her words, Chat blinked but she continued before he could speak. "Get the fuck away from me. No more walking me home, no more showing up at my house. No more telling people not to mess with me."
"Marinette–" Chat stepped forward to reach for her again.
She stepped backwards, her body nearly touching her front door. She should have looked vulnerable in that position, but she looked gloriously furious, a warrior Goddess. He didn't understand what he'd done to earn her wrath.
"Don't touch me," she hissed through her teeth. "I'm not your fucking pet, Chat Noir"
Chat blinked. "I… what?"
Chat stepped back, hesitant to leave her alone even so close to her home, but her glare cut through the night, sharp enough to send warnings through his body.